Is nothing sacred?
Car manufacturers build their reputation on certain styles, designs and philosophies. Can they, should they, ever betray those principles?
BMW has spent decades telling the world rear wheel drive is best. Now there’s the front-drive X1.
Subaru is adamant all wheel drive is the way to go. Except for their BRZ.
Mercedes-Benz’s AMG division is synonymous with big, rear-drive V8s. And then came the AMG A45, a turbo 4-cylinder AWD hatcback.
Lotus is known for a fanatical devotion to light, agile cars…and now they’re going to build an SUV.
Land Rover and Jeep make much of their long offroad history. But both build 2WD versions of their vehicles. Of course, some would say Land Rover lost their way when they fitted coil suspension, but we’ll leave that argument in history where it belongs.
Even Nissan upset the Patrol devotees by daring to move into the 21st century with the Y62 Patrol and its independent suspension.
Are these deviations from a brand’s core principles important? Are they actually necessary? Are they even deviations? Does it matter?
Some would say yes, no, yes and yes – those that would argue a BMW is not a BMW unless it’s rear drive, and an AMG is not an AMG unless it is also rear-drive and at least V6. There is some merit to those arguments, but the point can be taken only so far.
A broader view would consider the end, not the means. We could say that BMW is all about driving dynamics, and so long as their cars handle better than average it matters not how that is achieved. The same argument could be made for AMG, and even for Lotus, provided it builds the lightest and most agile SUV on the market. It is the point I make about the loss of low range in 4X4s which have increasingly the same capability without crawler gears.
It’s a bit harder to extend that argument to Land Rover and Jeep as, simply, 2WD versions of 4X4 vehicles are never going to be as capable offroad. You could stretch it a bit and say “it’s the best 2WD offroad” but that’s drawing too long a bow, kind of like saying a specific microcar is the best microcar at towing. Same deal for Subaru and the BRZ. So then we need to invoke the third argument, commercial necessity.
Time moves on and with it, car design. The V8 engine is going out of fashion due to efficiency and weight problems, so AMG has to ditch it. If BMW wants to compete in the segment occupied by the 1 Series then they need the advantages of front-drive. Both Land Rover and Jeep make 2WDs to drive sales and reduce their fleet’s overall fuel consumption, not because they particularly wanted to.
Traditionalists need to realise that either manufacturers adapt in this way, or they die. It’s a similar story with Porsche, who upset the loyalists when they created the “cheap” Boxster, and really annoyed them with the Cayenne and then later the Macan. But the fact is, those vehicles pay for the 911’s development.
Ultimately, I think each manufacturer should have core principles that we can identify with and say “that’s me”, in the same way we identify with certain sports teams and political parties. Exactly how those principles are realised is not as important… but that’s just my opinion. How about you?